As yesterday’s local and statewide elections demonstrated, American democracy continues its downward death spiral. Politically disillusioned, disappointed and dis-engaged young people, people of color, liberals and progressives stayed away from the polls in droves, allowing older conservative white voters to rule the day. That is the death spiral in which we find ourselves. Many would-be voters have simply given up. And you know what? It’s hard to blame them.
In the nineties we voted for a presidential candidate who sounded liberal during his two campaigns, but once in office, slid to the right. We did it again in 2008 and 2012, falling for the liberal, populist rhetoric of Obama, only to see him shape-shift into a moderate Republican after he was given the keys to the White House. And it’s not just in our heads. A recent study by Princeton University professors revealed that the average American, whether that person votes or not, has virtually no influence in government policymaking. The concluding paragraph of Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups and Average Americans reads:
“Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a wide-spread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”
I would argue that far from being merely threatened, democracy in America has been hijacked by the one percent, with the help of the Supreme Court, and we now live in an oligarchy. I don’t encourage people not to vote, but I understand the reasoning. Elections have become exercises in futility and the only citizens that have any influence in Washington are those with the deepest pockets.